Rep. Cantor takes sides in Illinois House primary

With 24 hours to go before polls open in Illinois’s redrawn 16th District, Republicans from the Prairie State to the nation’s capital are still reeling over the news that the Number Two leader in the House GOP hierarchy has publicly aligned himself with freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger over 20-year Rep. Don Manzullo.

Last week, the SuperPAC closely associated with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.)weighed in for Kinzinger by chipping in for $50,000 in advertising on the freshman lawmaker’s behalf.  Days ago, the “Young Guns Action Fund” began running radio spots in the 16th District proclaiming Kinzinger “an important part of the next generation of conservative leaders” and “a conservative rock in the fight against runaway government spending.”

As the race between the two Illinois lawmakers grows increasingly incendiary, the spot run by the Cantor-affiliated  SuperPAC also serves to accentuate a rift between some national Republican leaders in Washington and more conservative grass-roots activists.  A Who’s Who of conservative organizations—the American Conservative Union political action committee, Gun Owners of America—along with the Illinois Family PAC and most of the local tea party groups—are firmly in the Manzullo camp.

Some Manzullo supporters had grumbled that, along with Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Cal.) was also affiliated with the “Young Guns” PAC and was thus also siding with Kinzinger against their man.  But McCarthy’s office insisted that the California has nothing to do with the decisions made by Young Guns or its operating head (former Cantor staffer John Murray).

“Congressman McCarthy has no involvement with the Young Guns PAC,” McCarthy spokeswoman Sarah Pompei told us,  “and whatever they do is completely independent.”

Cantor can’t make similar denials.  Ten days ago, the majority leader personally endorsed Kinzinger, hailing the former U.S. Air Force pilot and “a new breed of conservative” who has helped House Republicans “reconnect with our tried and true conservative principles.”  (Earlier reports that Speaker John Boehner was backing Kinzinger, because of a $5000 donation to him, was denied by Boehner’s people; Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told HUMAN EVENTS that when the speaker made the donation to Kinzinger, “it was unclear it was a Member-on-Member primary and [Boehner] has since donated [$5000] to Manzullo”].)

Who’s the most conservative?

The scenario of a House GOP leader involving himself in a primary between two incumbents virtually always provokes controversy within the party. But conservative activists are particularly irate about the Cantor team’s characterization of Kinzinger (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 72 per cent) as somehow more conservative than Manzullo (lifetime ACU rating: 96 percent).  Among the votes on which Manzullo voted yes and Kinzinger no were those to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, to bar funding to enforce the Davis-Bacon Act, bar funds for a new United Nations Building (Kinzinger was one of 21 House Republicans to favor funding), and to eliminate the Foreign Agricultural Service, with 78 offices throughout the world.

“Congressman Kinzinger was not sent to Washington to vote according to however Washington special interest groups want,” Kinzinger spokesman Brook Hougeson told HUMAN EVENTS when we asked about his ratings from the groups indicating he was not as conservative as Manzullo, “He was sent to Washington to represent the voice of the people back home in Illinois. The basis for their claims is over amendments voted on in one bill – H.R. 1. After voting to significantly cut spending, the House voted on additional amendments to reduce spending. The amendments he voted against were ones that warranted a hearing and more information about the impact, before Congress voted to cut; including draconian cuts to our national defense. In fact, the Heritage Foundation said that these defense cuts ‘would hurt troops.’”

Along with the involvement of Cantor and the “SuperPAC” on Kinzinger’s behalf, Manzullo spokesman Rich Carter told HUMAN EVENTS that they were particularly upset by the attacks on their man and accompanying support for his opponent by two other outside groups: the Committee for Public Responsibility, which was a key factor in the primary defeat of Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Oh.) recently, and the Lunchpail Republicans, which styles itself a pro-labor Republican group and has battled GOP Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Mitch Daniels of Indiana in their fights to curb union power in their states,

“If they disliked Gov. Walker and Gov. Daniels, they must like [Kinzinger] because of his support for Davis-Bacon, which Don has always opposed,” said Carter.

Committee for Public Responsibility spokesman Curtis Ellis told HUMAN EVENTS his group was making a major expenditure in the 16th District primary because Manzullo “has been there a long time and broke the term limit pledge he made when first elected.”  Manzullo spokesman Carter hit this hard, explaining to us that the congressman “never signed a pledge, only said he thought he might serve twelve years and when that came up in ’04, he said he felt differently because Republicans were in the majority and he was in line to become chairman of the Small Business Committee.”

Rich Carter said that the backing of Cantor and the SuperPAC associated with him was bothersome but not a major concern because “when you see what low esteem Congress is held in most public opinion polls, we’ll take the support of grass-roots conservatives over Congress’s leaders any day.”


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